JOHN CHUCKMAN COMMENT: RESPONSE TO THE OFTEN-HEARD CRITICISM OF CHINA’S LACK OF DEMOCRACY – SOME COMPARISONS OF THE EARLY UNITED STATES AND TODAY’S CHINA – EXTRA THOUGHTS ON THE NATURE OF MODERN DEMOCRACY   Leave a comment

John Chuckman

COMMENT POSTED TO AN ARTICLE BY TYLER COWEN IN CHECKPOINT ASIA

 

“China Isn’t Going Democratic Any Time Soon and the West Would Be Sorry If It Did

“The Chinese Communist Party has delivered reform, rapid growth and relative stability for decades and is more liberal than the average Chinese”

 

https://www.checkpointasia.net/china-isnt-going-democratic-any-time-soon-and-the-west-would-be-sorry-if-it-did/

 

Early America was not in the least democratic. It’s been estimated that about 1% of Virginians could vote.

It wasn’t just the matter of slaves and women having no votes. There were powerful restrictions on age and wealth for men. You had to have a certain net worth in order to vote.

Imagine what you’d think of a rule like that today? The wealth limit would have to be immensely increased to account for the best part of two and a half centuries of inflation. So, you would feel as though only the most privileged could vote.

But even voting by those who could vote decided relatively few matters then. Most of the Founders were dead-set against the notion of democracy. They were upper-class types, wealthy planters and traders and lawyers, and all were affected by the fear that ordinary people might vote to siphon off wealth.

Until 1913, the Senate was appointed by the President, not elected, and it is, and was, the most powerful legislative body, by far, since it has to approve all important appointments – cabinet members, ambassadors, heads of important agencies – and all international treaties.

It also gains power from the fact that even in the days of its election, the pattern of seats up for election is designed so that the Senate can never change by more than one-third of its members in any one election.

Elections are staggered so that only over a period of six years do all seats face an election. So, burning issues of the day – crises and wars, for example – can little affect the Senate, even though it has a decisive influence on them.

The fact is, too, that the Senate’s membership is remarkably stable, almost resembling a non-elected body. Incumbents virtually always win. And some seats even pass from father to son.

Because the Senate is so very powerful, the really big money from big-money people finds its way into the campaigns, making the elections very costly and largely secure from upstarts. Of course, that fact also obligates heavily every member of this powerful body.

Another point still, for the Senate to invoke cloture on a matter or to halt a filibuster from a someone speaking on the floor, requires not a simple majority, but a sixty-percent vote.

All in all, the Senate remains a highly undemocratic institution, but a very powerful one.

Also, in America’s early days, the Electoral College, which was a far more restrictive institution, meant that even the small number of citizens who could vote could not vote directly for the President. The College members – again elites – were free to ignore the “popular” vote.

Money today plays a decisive role in all American national elections, the Supreme Court, whose members all were establishment appointments, even having ruled that “money is free speech.”

For a close look at the role of money today, see: https://chuckmanwordsincomments.wordpress.com/2018/07/22/john-chuckman-comment-how-american-politics-really-work-why-there-are-terrible-candidates-and-constant-wars-and-peoples-problems-are-ignored-why-heroes-like-julian-assange-are-persecuted-and-r/

The percentage of early Virginians who could vote (about 1%) happens to be almost exactly the same as the percentage of China’s population today allowed to become members of the Communist Party, the people whose votes count. Membership is a great privilege in China.

So, China’s approach to democracy isn’t all that strange if you have a little history. Of course, the right to vote has expanded over time in America, but remarkably slowly.

There was a little progress in Andrew Jackson’s time. But women, always slightly more than half of any human population for various biological reasons, didn’t get the vote until 1920, after decades and decades of protest. Blacks, about 13% of America’s population, really did not get the vote until the 1960s. Note that 1789 was the date of the Constitution’s first coming into force.

So, I see all criticism of China along these lines as very inappropriate. The Chinese have been free from Maoism only for a few decades, and they are making progress along a number of fronts. What they have today is certainly not communism, but a hybrid system owing a great deal to Deng Xiaoping.

As the history of the United States shows, and it’s much the same, only with variations, for the major countries of Western Europe, countries do not leap into democracy, not at all. Early economic development in almost any country is invariably guided by a political system controlled by elites.

And, indeed, to this day, the United States is far from being a convincingly democratic country. It has an elaborate political structure with a great deal of democratic window dressing, but in fact, money still rules, no matter what is said in all those insincere Fourth of July speeches.

 

INTERESTING ADDED THOUGHTS ABOUT MODERN DEMOCRACY:

 

You know the old saying about knowing who rules you by whom it is you may not criticize? But matters are handled much more subtly than that in the United States. Americans do expect to be able to speak freely, given the Bill of Rights and a pronounced national tendency for argumentativeness.

And for the most part, they are allowed to do so. However, most speech reaches very few ears owing to the structure of the press and broadcasting and political organizations, so its impact is little different than ordinary discussions on the street or in homes or schools.

The measure of the degree of any real influence by “the people” is found in answers to two questions.

One, do the people ever get a direct vote, effectively a “checks and balances” veto, on any truly vital national matter, as, say, whether the country goes to war? No, they most certainly do not.

Two, do the candidate choices offered voters in elections represent any real difference when it comes to such vital matters as going to war? Again, the answer is no.

I stress that the only candidate choices which really count are those of the two major parties, both well financed, often with both parties receiving funds from the same people or organizations. Minor candidates without big money are rarely even heard by most voters, and their names remain as “unknowns” on the ballot, even if they manage to get onto it.

A great deal of America’s post-WWII carnage across the planet might well not have occurred had the people at least a check in such matters. And, remember, it’s not like asking people about truly complex and specialized matters, such as finances. The “experts” in matters like war, your hometown politicians, have almost consistently got it totally wrong.

 

 

Posted June 19, 2019 by JOHN CHUCKMAN in Uncategorized

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